College Professors And Departments

George Leef has an article taking aim at college administrators.  Those folks have a lot to be humble about but George has a hit and and a K.  First, the hit:

His story begins in 2005, when Gouws was asked by the Springfield English department to teach a course entitled “Men in Literature.” It turned out to be a rather popular course and Gouws, who holds tenure, taught it eight times between 2005 and 2015. But in 2015 a student lodged a complaint against the course with school leaders. It wasn’t that Professor Gouws had mistreated her, but simply that the course content, focused only on men, bothered her.

In a sensible era, officials would have said, “Well, then take something else if you’re offended,” but “progressive” academics seem incapable of insisting on common sense from students these days, especially if they’re in one of our supposedly oppressed groups. At Springfield, the result of the student’s gripe was to trigger what Wood terms “a feminist jihad” against a veteran, highly capable faculty member.

It is the responsibility of the department chair to deal with student complaints.  What the chair should have said, perhaps in addition to George’s comment, is that the department is responsible for curriculum decisions.  It should not go any higher up the line.  One thing that rings a bit tinny is that Gouws’ “standard request” for a sabbatical was denied.  Sabbaticals cost the department manpower and money. The quality of any faculty request matters.  So we agree that the administration and particularly the chair failed to maintain departmental control over curriculum but the sabbatical request is less compelling evidence.

George’s second example is the other side of curriculum and grading:

Next consider Nathaniel Bork, an adjunct professor at Aurora Community College in Colorado. He’d been teaching philosophy and comparative religion at the college as an adjunct professor since 2010, without any incident.

Now Bork has lost his job because he didn’t agree with the administration’s efforts at making introductory courses easier to pass.

As we read in this Inside Higher Ed story, in September of last year Bork took a call from the chairman of his department, who told him that his employment was immediately terminated. The reason Bork was given for his abrupt termination was his supposed “lack of effectiveness in implementing the philosophy curriculum design.”

George reports that Bork had a different explanation:

He maintains that the reason for his firing was that he had complained that the department had dumbed down the introductory “gatekeeper” courses in an attempt to increase passage rates, thereby encouraging students to continue on at Aurora.

We can’t agree with George.  We have been there.  Part of the department’s responsibility for curriculum is to monitor grading and that is one of the most complicated problems the department and the chair faces.  There is natural and unnatural variation among classes.  One large department at our former university used to open a few seats every day during registration so that the early morning and late afternoon classes didn’t fill last and provide unnatural variation.  One semester we taught a class that was opened late due to our poor projection of demand.  It was the biggest group of misfits we have ever taught.  Another department at another university had prescribed percentages of each grade because they felt that even an overall GPA for the class encouraged certain behaviors that we were not convinced of but they were.  We tried an A, B, F grading scheme to encourage quality.  It didn’t work.  There were many more grading issues that came up.

In short, it is the department’s responsibility to set curriculum and grading is part of that.  George is aghast that the department fired Bork in September.  We are closer to pleasantly surprised.  The department took immediate action to solve what they saw as a problem.  The department might be wrong but it is their choice.

Sidebar One: Our department’s grades were typically the lowest in the college.  So we might support Bork but it is the department’s, not an individual’s, choice.  End Sidebar One.

Sidebar Two: Our faculty gave the lowest grades but our students got the highest grades.  A bit counterintuitive but true.  End Sidebar Two.

We are not issuing an opinion that Gouws is right and Bork is wrong.  What we are saying is that administrators, and particularly the chair, were wrong to cede departmental control of curriculum to the students the Bork case and correct to maintain control over curriculum by the department in other case.


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